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LAWRIE, Alexander Fraser

Born: 1900 05 12
Died: 1985 09 08

Architect

SACA:
Reg No: 65
Year registered: 1927

Dip Arch (Aberdeen)

Also referred to as FRASER LAWRIE, Alexander.

ARIBA (1924); TPIA (1927); ISAA (1927).

Was born in Scotland and educated there, his parents having sent him to school in Scotland while they were living in South Africa. He was in England when the First World War broke out and, a full-time student from 1915 until 1917 at the Gray School of Art and Architecture and Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, he enlisted with the army as soon as possible, joining the Gordon Highlanders aged 17 in 1917. His military service appears to have run parallel to his professional training since between June 1917 and June 1918 he was apprenticed with Jenkins & Marr, architects in Aberdeen whilst continuing to attend evening classes at the School of Architecture.

But in 1918 he was sent to France where he was when the armistice was signed. In 1920 he was demobilised and would have preferred to join up for a further seven years but for his parents encouraging him to qualify as an engineer or architect. Lawrie returned to Aberdeen, recommencing his studies as a full-time student at the Gray School of Architecture and sat the professional practice examination in 1923. He returned to Pretoria to work for the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in late 1923 with a degree and diploma as an architect and a degree in structural engineering, he was admitted ARIBA through the war exemption scheme on 3 March 1924, his proposers being John Alexander Ogg Allan, Robert Gordon Wilson junior and John Wilson Walker.

Lawrie lived with his parents in Johannesburg but worked in Pretoria until about 1925 when he left to join COWIN, POWERS & ELLIS, put in charge of their newly opened office in Durban in February 1925 and where he taught at the Natal Technical College, instructing in architectural design. In 1926 he returned to Johannesburg and successfully applied for a job in Malaya, working in Kuala Lumpur on a three-year contract. Part of the contract demanded that he should learn to speak Malay, which he did, and was struck by the affinity of Malay and Afrikaans. A year before his contract was due to expire the firm which had engaged him was with dissolved. At the same time he received the offer of a three-year contract to return to Pretoria to supervise the building of the Pretoria Technical College for Gordon LEITH who had won the competition for this building in 1926. Lawrie returned to South Africa in 1927 and took charge of the project.

On completion of the job, he was appointed a part-time lecturer in architecture with WG McINTOSH at the Transvaal University College in Pretoria, entering practice on his own account in about 1933 when his abiding interest in military service reasserted itself.

Lawrie joined the Union Defence Force and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Sixth Field Company, South African Engineering Corps. The army played a major role in his life ever after.

Malayan culture had a lasting effect on Lawrie, which he recalled when building his well-known house in Loveday Street in Pretoria (1928), the design of which is closely dependent on Frank Lloyd Wright's textile-block houses of which La Miniatura (1923) in Pasadena was the first. Lawrie's house probably most resembled the Ennis house (1923) in Los Angeles or the Arizona Biltmore cottages. He himself claimed that he was also influenced by Le Corbusier. The house is Lawrie's best-known building. For its construction he designed a 13inch concrete block to which could be added where intended a textured concrete tile which he designed, made up of interlocking Malayan pictograms of the numbers six and seven, their sum being favoured by Lawrie as a fortunate number, giving the name Tigablas, the transliteration of the original Malayan pictogram, to the house. In addition, the house number is 247, the digits of which figure add up to thirteen. Separately cast concrete blocks, forming complete modular corners, were made to suit both internal (convex) and external (concave) corners. The interior walls were intended to be left as raw concrete and unpainted but are now painted; the roof was flat, built to a specification of Lawrie's own devising. The design of the house, dependant on the module of the block/tile a modular system, perhaps the first example of the system in South Africa. Although Lawrie built many other houses in a variety of styles, none approached this concept. Several of his buildings have elaborate decorative features such as the stylized bird executed in the brick of which the building was made on the Dental Clinic (RV Bird), Prinsloo St, Pretoria. WG McINTOSH's name has also been linked to this building; as Lawrie and McIntosh were colleagues at the Transvaal University College and also collaborated on other buildings, they may have had some common interest in this building although unlike McIntosh's style.

In 1959 his address was 247, Loveday Street, Muckleneuk, Pretoria.

Lawrie was well known for his congenial and lively nature; among his talents was telling jokes on Springbok Radio under the name of Ray Law. Lawrie died in Johannesburg.

There is also a listing of this practitioner on the Dictionary of Scottish Architects.

(Humphrey 1986 - personal communication, daughter of AF Lawrie; ISAA mem list; James 1990; Paratus Magazine Aug 1980; PWSA Jul 1939; ARIBA nom Papers (1924) 3756; SAAR Jun 1926:53-54; SAAR Sep 1928:76; SAAR Dec 1928:140; SAAR Sep 1932:39; SAB Feb 1925:43; SA Sapper Dec 1985 vol 37 no 4 obit; AF Lawrie papers, HSRC doc; ISAA Yearbook, 1959)

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

Books citing LAWRIE

Brown, SM. 1969. Architects and others: an annotated list of people of South African interest appearing in the RIBA Journal 1880 1925. Johannesburg: Unpublished dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand. pp

Cumming-George, L. 1933. Architecture in South Africa - Volume One. Cape Town: The Speciality Press of S.A. Ltd.. pp 77

ISAA. 1959. The Yearbook of the Institute of South African Architects and Chapter of SA Quantity Surveyors 1958-1959 : Die Jaarboek van die Instituut van Suid-Afrikaanse Argitekte en Tak van Suid-Afrikaanse Bourekenaars 1958-1959. Johannesburg: ISAA. pp 93, 187

ISAA. 1969. The Yearbook of the Institute of South African Architects and Chapter of SA Quantity Surveyors 1968-1969 : Die Jaarboek van die Instituut van Suid-Afrikaanse Argitekte en Tak van Suid-Afrikaanse Bourekenaars 1968-1969. Johannesburg: ISAA. pp 96, 145

ISAA. 1927. Register of Members the Institute of South African Architects. Johannesburg: ISAA (Unpublished Record). pp L6